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Bar Girls hotties in Nantes competition

As Nantes’ competition has rolled on, the spot has already been occupied by four rather different titles: three of them were coming from Asia, Bar Girls (Gai Nhay) from Vietnam, Min from Malaysia and Ordinary People (Malen’kie Ljudi) from Kazakhstan; the fourth one, The Magic Gloves (Los Guantes Magicos), came instead from Argentina.

The competition opened with Le Hoang’s Bar Girls, a film that depicts the life of female dancers and prostitutes in present days Saigon. Girls coming from different social backgrounds all end up selling their bodies in bright-lighted and techno-music resounding nightclubs. The film is set in motion by the failed attempt of a young journalist to make an investigation on the world of bar girls, then delves deep into the lives of some of these hookers, thus uncovering all of the sadness, violence and loneliness of their existence. Although we cannot doubt the generosity of Le’s film, and especially its denunciation of the plague of AIDS, highly questionable are both its form, which sometimes indulges into easy and exploitative effects, and its narrative structure, too episodic and unbalanced.

A much more convincing work is Min, début feature from Chinese Malaysian Ho Yuhang. Ho’s film describes with precision and sensitivity a young woman’s search for her birth mother: Yasmin, a Chinese twenty-something, has in fact been adopted when she was a newborn child by a Malay couple, and now, a married woman, is eager to know who her real mother was. Ho’s film, which for its careful framing and scarce relying on dialogues may recall the films of fellow Malay-Chinese Tsai Ming-liang, is impregnated of an almost palpable sense of lack and always keeps a measured distance from its characters, thus never revealing their inner mysteries. Min’s search for her mother in the end comes to nothing, as the woman she meets can be no more than a total stranger, but in the process she realizes that the need to find out what’s missing in her life can be answered only by looking within herself.

Both screened yesterday, The Magic Gloves and Ordinary People revealed more than a point in common. First, Martin Rejtman’s third film and Nariman Turebaiev’s début both premiered in competition at Locarno and both unluckily left the Swiss festival empty-handed. Secondly, they’re both extremely funny comedies that rely on a quirky sense of humour, often generated by visually based gags flourishing from odd characters. Thirdly, both Rejtman and Turebaiev display an incredibly assured sense of framing and composition, a marked taste for essentiality and rigour and a perfect command over pacing and rhythm. Last but not least, the two films both convey humorous yet touching - especially in the case of the Kazakh one – portrayals of their countries and people, faced to devastating economic crisis and the everyday struggles of human beings. Magic Gloves centres on Alejandro, a middle-aged taxi driver who one day gives a lift to a man that starts claiming his brother and Alejandro were schoolmates. Suddenly, placid Alejandro finds himself absorbed into a quietly moving but inexorable mechanic, which will change his life and introduce a pleasant multitude of lunatic characters.

Turebayev’s Ordinary People are instead Bek and Max, mates who share the same flat and the same work: selling useless tools to naïve people hooked on the streets. While Max charmingly and unstoppably cheats poor passers-by and seduces one girl after the other, Bek goofily shows no capability and luck both at work and with women. Nevertheless, the stagnant air of Almaty seems to offer no better future to them. Whilst Rejtman fittingly confirms the exceptional vivacity and diversity of the Argentinian cinema renaissance, Turebaiev’s film, coming from a country from which produces scarce but always excellent pictures (namely, Darezhan Omirbaev’s and Serik Aprymov’s), is a small yet priceless masterpiece. Through his sincerely humanistic look, Turebaiev permanently conquers the audience to the hilarious and touching fate of characters living in a context that is no doubt very specific and local, but whose nature and feelings are undeniably worldwide and universal.

Paolo Bertolin

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